TODAY'S QUESTION: Will you visit the newly reopened Johnson's Shut-Ins?

Monday, May 24, 2010 | 11:31 a.m. CDT

Four and a half years after catastrophe struck Johnson's Shut-Ins, the popular state park in southeast Missouri has been restored and reopened. Visitors were welcomed Saturday to explore the more than $100 million worth of renovations, which include fancy campgrounds and a new visitors' center.

The park closed in late 2005 after a massive deluge — more than 1.3 billion gallons of water — devastated the area and destroyed one home on the property. The Dec. 14 flood was caused by a breach of AmerenUE's Taum Sauk reservoir; former park superintendent Jerry Toops and his family were present and suffered minor injuries.

For decades, visitors have enjoyed scrambling up, jumping from and swimming around the large rocks that rise up from parts of the Black River to create a sort of natural water park. In its last full season, 235,627 people visited the park.

Yet the park's main attraction — the shut-ins — have never been without hazard. The rocks can be very slippery and the water sometimes turbulent. Park rangers have introduced a $500 fine to discourage dangerous cliff-diving, but even that doesn't deter some daredevils.

Now an even bigger risk looms over park-goers: Ameren has rebuilt its reservoir on nearby Proffit Mountain. Park officials said the landscape was forever changed by the flood, according to previous Missourian reports; fallen trees and remaining debris will remind visitors of the disaster. Bright orange signs will give evacuation instructions in case it happens again.

Will you visit the newly reopened Johnson's Shut-Ins?

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